SA Fashion Week: Runway rules steal the show

It would not be South African Fashion Week without a nipple or two peeking through sheer fabric, girls on stilts, boys ­channelling Filipino superstar fashion blogger Bryan Boy with a clutch bag in one outstretched hand, and lots of jostling for tickets and attention.

Fashion Week has its own rules. This year, the invitation came with a useful etiquette guide. Among the tips: “Watch your hairstyle — the person behind you might also want to see the show”; “Don’t scale the gifts out of the goody bag on the next seat” (enough headline-sponsor ­Tresemmé haircare product to brain any unsuspecting filcher); and “Don’t pretend you are media if you are not”.

Credit Anna Wintour, the British-born editor-in-chief of American Vogue, with modelling front-row comportment. Exude elegance, be compact, wear a slightly stern but composed expression and cross your arms, body language parlance for closing yourself to social influence.

These rules must not be taken too seriously, yet must be taken very seriously indeed. Fashion rules worlds, powers economies, builds fortunes and status, fuels popular culture and shapes hierarchies. It is also fickle and can, if designer Gert Johan-Coetzee’s spiked ­shoulder pads were anything to go by, be ­dangerous.

The idea was to go backstage to contrast the pre-show chaos with the catwalk order. But fashion is unpredictable and minutes before opening night the backstage tent was a sea of calm, with scudding clouds of hairspray and layers of make-up being applied below a sign that read: “Thank you beautiful models”.

It contrasted with the goings-on out front, as the crowd rapidly multiplied in the foyer of Rosebank’s Crowne Plaza Hotel. Ticket queues for the oversubscribed shows swelled with the accredited “chosen ones”, the chancers, who were not invited, and the indignant, who said they were. In queuing, all are made equal,  until that golden front-row seat ticket is in hand. Then it is as if you can part water, or bouncers.

Media photographers roved the venue in search of street-style shots, à la American fashion bloggist Scott Schuman, whose The Sartorialist blog pioneered capturing city style.

Ironically, their “street shots” captured what probably took a day of preparation just to get an ensemble that would be noticed.

Inside the venue were the watchers and the texters. Media photo-graphers and camera people flanked one wall grandstand-style while the audience created their own light show with their cellphones.  

And the actual fashion? Opening night gives a sense of each designer’s personal style rather than a signature South Africa fashion style.

But fashion is at its best when it tells stories.  For the most talented designers, there is always a tug between the commercial and the conceptual, for one scores no points at the Durban July wearing wit or irony.

In South Africa’s designer pantheon, Clive Rundle is the god of finer details. This year, he forwent a solo catwalk show for an art/design/fashion boundary-crossing installation performed to the soundtrack of someone taking a Rorschach inkblot test. It continues to play in my head as probably the most accurate take on fashion:  “What do you see? … I’ll give you a little bit of time because it took me a second to see something in this one. It’s kind of like nothing… better look harder, there’s something in there … Should I get help, because I am seeing all kinds of weird stuff. ”


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